Tuesday, January 12, 2010

First Page

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This blog has no longer been updated since 2009. Some entries have been deleted, and some images may no longer display properly.
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Please go to www.batsav.com, where you will find all the original posts and many, many more entries.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Shrine of St. Marina in Mtiuleti

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view facing south
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The Shrine of St. Marina near the hamlet of Ebralidzeebi, across the Aragvi River from the village of Kvesheti in Mtiuleti, along the Georgian Military Highway.
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view facing west
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The shrine is built atop an old stone tower, which - judging from the ruins which surround it - was once part of a group of quite large buildings.
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the interior
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The shrine contains a holy flag (Georgian: drosha), bells, and drinking-horns and other vessels.
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view facing east
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hands and dots
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On the south face of the tower are hand-prints, pressed into plaster on either side of a group of dots (which might mark the spot where one should touch the tower with one's forehead).
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Here is an old (1975) photograph of the chapel, copied from S. Kurtsikidze & V. Chikovani's amazing Ethnography and Folklore of the Georgia-Chechnya Border (Munich: LINCOM 2008):
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Note: The feast-day of St. Marina (Georgian: marinoba) is on August 12. The shrine is accessible only on foot, having crossed the Aragvi River close to the village of Kvesheti.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Traditional Tush Family

The Traditional Tush Family - Structure and Economic Activity
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The basic unit of Caucasian society is the extended family, a grouping of several lineages collectively owning and exploiting a same estate. In Georgia, the extended family is particularly found in the western mountains among the Svans and in the east among the Tush, the Mokhev (inhabitants of Khevi), and the Pshav. Even as late as the early twentieth century it was not rare to find family communities composed of more than forty members, living under one roof, cultivating and exploiting collective property, and placed under the authority of the oldest man. Here is, for example, the composition of a Tush family, which remained undivided until 1913; the Djidjuriani, from the village of Shenak'o, were twenty-five individuals: the "Father of the House" (mamasakhlisi, i.e. the patriarch) and his wife, an unmarried son, five other sons and their wives, their eleven children, and the wife of one of the latter. They collectively owned a thousand two hundred heads of cattle (ovin and caprin), ten cows, a pair of oxen, and thirty horses, and they cultivated an area of land equivalent to fifteen "dailies" (dghiuri, i.e. a surface of land which regularly required a day's work to be cultivated).
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In another village, the Ganaani family was made up of three generations, a total of nineteen family members, of which ten were men. They owned between a thousand and a thousand five hundred heads of small cattle (ovin and caprin), eight cows, a pair of oxen, and six "dailies" of land. The elder son was in charge of the entire estate. Of his three younger brothers, two were responsible for the so-called "interior" or "inside" farming, i.e. they tended the family's fields, and the third was responsible for making cheese and other milk products. Among the next, younger generation, the son and the nephews of the family head (his son and the six sons of his younger brothers) devoted themselves to pastoral activities, helped by eight shepherds - seasonal workers foreign to the community and in the family's employ. Livestock farming was the most important part of the Tush economy. Tending to the needs of the family's cattle required fifteen men, whereas only two could acquit themselves of the "inside" farming. This disproportion explains the existence of a practice which differentiates the Tush from the other mountain tribes: almost all the male members of the family were needed to care for the cattle; consequently, it was the women who tended to the fields - ploughing and sowing them, etc. When this seasonal work was over, they devoted themselves to their main activity: the production of wool, weaving, the making of clothes, etc. Female work was organized by and under the direction of the "Mistress of the House" (dedasakhlisi, i.e. the matriarch); this role automatically belonged to the wife of the oldest man: the wife of the "Father of the House" (1st generation) or, if she died, the wife of the elder brother (2nd generation); the woman's age was never taken into consideration - only that of her husband. And as for the role of patriarch, it always belonged to the oldest man.
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The matriarch was also responsible for another important task: she was in charge of the accumulation of unconsumed goods
- milk products, meat, grain - and had to see to their storage and preservation. These reserves were called the saodjakho, "for the family", and were destined to remain intact as the family's private wealth, and were not to be shared. In cases of absolute necessity, part of this wealth could be used by the family, but always collectively. This treasury also included sums of money, which were sometimes considerable, and which were also placed under the authority of the "Mistress of the House". Among the Tush and the Pshav, the profits resulting from the sale of livestock or products were hoarded, and not reinvested. Gains were thus buried forever and none would profit. Rapiel Eristavi commented upon this in 1855:
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"This branch of agriculture [livestock farming] provides people with relatively important profits; the monies resulting from the sale of hides, of wool, of cheese and milk, are carefully entered in the families books. Among the Pshav and the Tush one may meet with well-off families who own forty or fifty thousand roubles, among which one may still find fifty kopeck coins, which are now no longer in use. This phenomenon is unsurprising, for the mountaineers - instead of reinvesting their money and replacing it into the economy - bury it in the earth."
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This practice is important, for it shows to what extent mountain societies remained outside of the merchant economy, which was nonetheless penetrating most Georgian provinces. As in most archaic civilizations, the mountain tribes had no conception of goods being able to bear another value than their intrinsic value. As money was only defined by its value as a means of exchange, it was condemned to remain foreign to their economic system, for these peoples essentially provided for their own needs without resorting to commerce. Gaps in production were filled by barter and - possibly - pillage, whose economic role would merit closer study.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pshavi

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a view of pshavi from google earth
(the valley running north-south on the left-hand side is that of the pshavis aragvi river;
the 12 villages of pshavi are in the perpendicular valley, running east-west)
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the turn to pshavi off the main road north from tbilisi towards barisakho and khevsureti
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I recently (June 2009) went to Pshavi for the first time, in the company of Thomas Wier, an aspiring linguist here in Georgia to study kartvelian dialects (Tush, Pshav, Khevsur, Mokhevian, etc.). We were meant to go with someone from the Arnold Chikobava Institute of Linguistics in Tbilisi, but this being Georgia, it never happened, and Thomas and I decided to head up to Pshavi on our own.
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Although we got no further than the village of Shupakho, we did get to meet Lazare Elizbarashvili, the
khevisberi (or "Valley Elder") of the Sacred Shine of Iaqsar.
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lazare elizbarashvili, the valley elder of shuapkho and guardian of the shrine of iaqsar
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the sacred shrine of iaqsar (hidden in the trees up on the right)
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Iaqsar is the khati of the village of Shuapkho, a pagan divinity (winged, in some narratives) in the Pshav-Khevsur pantheon, the sworn brother of Kopala, like him a slayer of devi, devils.
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To download the locations of the 12 villages of Pshavi for Google Earth, please click here, and download the ".kmz" file.
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Here is a recording of Lazare Elizbarashvili's father Ioseb, his predecessor as khevisberi of the Sacred Shrine of Iaqsar, officiating during the feast (dgheoba) of Iaqsar in the 1980s.
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(This prayer was recorded from Mirian Khutsishvili's ethnographic film Pshavi.)
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ethnographic Map of Tusheti

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tushetis istoriul-etnograpiuli dzeglebis kartograpireba
[historical-ethnographical map of Tusheti]
Courtesy of Giorgi Mamardashvili from the State Museum of Georgia. The definition is poor, but familiarity with the region should enable one to glean some information from the map.
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Ethnographic Map of Qvara-Tianeti

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qvara-tianetis salotsavebi
[map of holy places in Qvara-Tianeti]
Courtesy of Giorgi Mamardashvili from the State Museum of Georgia. The definition is poor, but familiarity with the region should enable one to glean some information from the map.
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Ethnographic Map of Pirikita-Khevsureti

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pirikita khevsuretis djvar-khatebis ruka
[a map of shrines and holy places in pirikita khevsureti]
Courtesy of Giorgi Mamardashvili from the State Museum of Georgia. The definition is poor, but familiarity with the region should enable one to glean some information from the map.
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Ethnographic Map of Piraketa-Khevsureti

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piraketa khevsuretis djvar-khatebis ruka
[a map of shrines and holy places in piraketa khevsureti]
Courtesy of Giorgi Mamardashvili from the State Museum of Georgia. The definition is poor, but familiarity with the region should enable one to glean some information from the map.
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Friday, March 6, 2009

Georges Dumezil

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Georges Dumézil was born in Paris in 1898, the son of a clacissist, and became interested in ancient languages at a very young age. According to the Wikipaedia entry, "it has been said that he could read the Aeneid in Latin at the age of 9". Having finished school, he went to France's elite Ecole Nationale Supérieure in 1916.
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His studies were interrupted by the First World War (the Battle of Verdun took place the year he became a student): He was mobilized, and fought in the war as an officer in the French artillery. After the war, he resumed his studies, and obtained his agrégation in Classical Literature in 1921.
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He spent a few months teaching in France, before becoming a lecturer at the University of Warsaw. In 1924, he received his doctorate, having written his doctoral thesis on "The Feast of Immortality" in Indo-European mythologies, thesis in which he compared the origins of the Greek "ambrosia" and the Indian drink "amrita", which was believed to render the man who drank it immortal.
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Dumézil apparently found the academic climate in France rather stifling, and moved to (the then nascent republic of) Turkey. He became Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Istanbul in 1925, where he taught for six . He learnt Turkish, and travelled in Turkey, Russia, and the Caucasus. It was also in Turkey that he first came across the Ubykh language, which was to fascinate him for years, and the experience and knowledge of the Caucasus he gained during these years was to make him the foremost French (and francophone) caucasologist.
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He left Turkey in 1931, and moved to Uppsala in Sweden, where he taught at the University for 2 years before returning to France in 1933. Back in Paris, he held the Chair of Comparative Religion of Indo-European Peoples at the famous Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.
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Named a member of the prestigious Collège de France after the war (1949), where he held the Chair of Indo-European Civilization (created specially for him), Dumézil would go on to teach at the Collège for almost 20 years, before moving to Princeton University (1968-1971).
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Prof. Georges Dumézil was elected to the 40th Chair of the Académie française on October 26, 1978, and was formally received by the illustrious Claude Lévi-Strauss - his colleague, patron, and fellow student of mythology.
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Doctor honoris causa of the University of Uppsala (1955), of Istanbul (1964), of Berne (1969), of Liège (1979), Associate Member of the Académie royale de Belgique (1958), Member of the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (1968), Member of the Académie des Inscriptions et belles-lettres de Paris (1970), Honorary Member of The Royal Irish Academy, Section of Polite Literature and Antiquities (1974), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1974), Prof. Georges Dumézil died on October 11, 1986.
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Dumézil published many books and articles. The following list concerns itself only with those related to the Caucasus:

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Légendes sur les Nartes
(Institut d’Études Slaves, 1930)

Textes populaires ingush
(A. Maisonneuve, 1935)
Contes et légendes des Oubykhs (Institut d’Ethnologie, 1957)
Contes lazes (
Institut d’Ethnologie, 1957)

Études oubykhs (A. Maisonneuve, 1959)

Documents anatoliens sur les langues et les traditions du Caucase
(A. Maisonneuve, 1960-'67)

Le livre des héros, légendes ossètes sur les Nartes
(Gallimard, 1965)

Le verbe oubykh, études descriptives et comparatives
(Académie des Inscriptions et belles-lettres, 1975)

Romans de Scythie et d’alentour (Payot, 1978)

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Two books from the author's library:
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Friday, January 30, 2009

Travels in Tusheti

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When on my way back from the Dadaloba festival in the summer of 2008, I came across an English family on their way around Tusheti on horseback. I had been in touch with dad - Chris Wills - by email many months beforehand, and both parties were much surprised to bump into each other in Patima's wonderful guesthouse in the small hamlet of Djvarboseli!
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Here is a link to their blog, a fine tale of horsemanship and feasting, and probably the best account of a wonderful stay in Tusheti! And for more information on how to get to Tusheti in the first place, please see this entry on my blog.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Khevsur Warriors

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I do not wish to become embroiled in the common nonsensical discussions about the Khevsurs being the descendants of Crusaders who somehow got lost in the Caucasus on their way from Europe to the Holy Land. Even a basic knowledge of geography suffices to know that Khevsureti is a long, long way from the routes followed by the Crusaders from Europe!
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Regardless: This old studio photograph (probably taken in Tbilisi) is so wonderful that I feel I must post it!
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no shields here - just swords
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There is a growing interest in and enthusiasm for "Caucasian martial arts", mostly on the internet, and there are even displays of "authentic" Georgian "martial arts skills" during folkloric festivals here in Georgia (see www.mtavari.ge for more information - the site is in Georgian). Here is an extract from The Religious System of Pagan Georgia by Georges Charachidze (Paris, 1968 - in French; my translation):
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Nevertheless, the kadag [a powerful soothsayer; the gods were thought to communicate through him] intervenes in matters of law; firstly, in precise circumstances such as the vendetta and the "duel", called parik'aoba or tch'ra-tch'riloba. In some ways, tch'ra-tch'riloba represents the legal form of the vendetta, if the protagonists belong to different clans.
tch'ra-tch'riloba means "cut" or "wound" [in the Khevsur dialect of Georgian]: the two adversaries kneel facing each other, the sword held in the right hand, the shield in the other; they cannot break up [their fight]. They may only strike each other's faces, the sword's sharp point being used to inflict wounds; the wounds must be light, and may not go down to the bone. The fight takes place within the surrounding wall of the shrine; it is prescribed by the men of the council, the judges, either to end a debt of blood which may exist between two clans or as an ordeal to separate two plaintiffs belonging to the same clan. If one of the fighters receives a severe wound, the man responsible for inflicting it and/or his clan must "buy back his blood" [from the wounded man and/or from his clan]. The wound is measured with grains of cereal, each one being equivalent to [the payment of] one cow. Wherefrom springs a practice of certain Khevsur doctors who, at the bidding of the wounded man, deepen his wound down to the bone. Sometimes, instead of ending the vendetta, the tch'ra-tch'riloba restarts it, following a disagreement regarding the gravity of the wound inflicted or the good faith of the "surveyors of the wound" [those who judge its severity]. It is obvious that in this situation the "judges" are incompetent: by deciding that the fight should be held, they had already divested themselves of the case and had accepted the subsequent divine judgement beforehand. If even this divine judgement was for whatever reason inoperable or unacceptable, a retrial was useless: one addressed oneself directly to the divinity, i.e. to the kadag. Such cases were commonplace, if one may judge from the persistence, the popularity, and the violence of tch'ra-tch'riloba. Vaja Pshavela [a famous nineteenth-century Pshav writer and poet] tells that he counted more than 50 wounds on the face of a single man. G. Eladze, describing the custom in 1949[!], concludes by recommending governmental action with a view to transforming these bloody fights into a simple sport. (pp. 183-184)
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Here is a Youtube video showing old films and photographs of parik'aoba or tch'a-tch'riloba. The first few seconds (filmed in the late 1920s) are a good example of this practice, as the two fighters are not wearing chain mail hoods (which were included in all the early photographs of the Khevsurs, which prized dramatic effect over ethnographic accuracy).
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Songs by Lela Tataraidze

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Lela Tataraidze is Tusheti's most famous singer. She was first described to me as
TuSeTis jeniper lopez
i.e. "Tusheti's Jennifer Lopez" - some indication of her fame and popularity! She was born in Dano, a small, nearly abandoned hamlet in Pirikiti Tusheti. Like most Tush families, hers had no doubt been spending the harsh winters down in the valley of the Alazani, in Kvemo Alvani (where her house - and indeed her mother! - are still to be seen). Her haunting songs are THE music played by all the Tush, irrespective of origin (Tchaghma, Pirikiti, Gometsri, Tsova, Tbilisi Tush, etc.), and some of them - particularly "How beautiful is Tusheti!" - have come to represent the very soul of Tusheti - indeed, to the detriment of other Tush artists: Ask any Georgian (or Tush) to name a singer from Tusheti, and every single one will come up with Lela Tataraidze. But ask them to name a singer from Tusheti other than Lela Tataraidze, however, and you will most likely draw a blank.
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Here are two of her many songs:
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"ra lamazia tusheti", or "How beautiful is Tusheti", and a lamentation for the death of several [Tush] people carried away in an avalanche (in the 1970s or -80s, I believe).
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For more traditional Georgian songs - not from Tusheti, however - please see my previous post on two songs by Sandro Kavsadze.
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Friday, January 9, 2009

Journalists on Google

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Notice the peak in August? Those are all the journos frantically searching the web for information on Georgia and South Ossetia!
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The 2008 Dadaloba Celebrations







I spent a wonderful week up in Tusheti, travelling to Tsovata via the Gometsari valley with two friends - Peggy Scremin, the "Attachee de Cooperation" at the French embassy in Tbilisi, and Lali Laliashvili, a French-speaking half-Tush girl from Kistauri. We were the guests of the three "shulta" ("hosts") of this year's celebrations: Zura Garsevanidze (the former mayor of Zemo Alvani), Besik Kaishvili, and Petre Ushurauli (the master shepherd!).

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Our driver (a Tsova, naturally!) tops up the Niva's tank with a jar of moonshine petrol in Kvemo Alvani before we embark upon the epic drive over the mountains into Tusheti.

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The road up to Tusheti (looking from the Caucasus mountains down towards the Alazani Valley and Kakheti).

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The compulsory glasses of chacha (Georgian grappa - triple-distilled grape mush from the bottom of the wine press) on top of the 3,000m Abanos Pass which separates Tusheti from Kakheti. Because of the pass' high altitude, the road to Tusheti is only open to cars from mid-June to mid-September (and only passable to shepherds and horses from mid-May to late September).

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The (superb) view from the Abanos Pass down into Tusheti.

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The Sulak river basin, with Omalo ("the capital of Tusheti") and its fantastic castle in the background.

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The end of the road: Pati's fabulous guesthouse in the hamlet of Djvarboseli, "the byre of the Cross", where we spend the night on our way to Tsovata.

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The superb view down the Gometsari valley from Pati's guesthouse, as photographed from the bathroom [i.e. loo].

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The view from Pati's guesthouse up the Gometsari Valley, with the path to Tsovata in the foreground.

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The next day: Early morning preparations for the ride/walk to Tsovata.

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Even Nivas (!) can go no further.

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A pack-horse.

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The path that leads to Tsovata, looking down the Gometsari Valley back towards Djvarboseli.

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The Tsovatistsqali River (a tributary of the Gometsris Alazani), looking towards Tsovata.

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Our host in Tsovata: Mirza. (Looking festive, as usual.)

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Nightlife in Tsovata: The young Tsovas compete in lifting weights on their hand made bench-press.

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What dreams are made of (for young shepherds in Tsovata).

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The eve of Dadaloba. Mirza and his horse, with k'en sameb, "the old [church of the] Trinity" on the sacred hill in the background.

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Another, better view of the old church of the Trinity and the sacred hill. (Note the "stone man" on the latter's summit.) Women are not allowed to walk upon the hill, and it is not considered proper and respectful for them to even approach its flanks.

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Celebrating the victory of Mirza (black t-shirt) in the "doghi" ("horse race"), a ritual horse race which is held yearly, and is the high-point of the Bats festival of "dadaloba", "the Feast of God the Father".
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Zura Garsevanidze, the former mayor of the Bats village of Zemo Alvani (in Kakheti), and one of this year's three "shulta" ("host"). His saddlebags both contain a (live) sheep, which will be taken down the Tsovatistsqali valley from Indurta to Tsaro, where their sacrifice will mark the beginning of the "doghi" ("horse race").
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Rezo, a Bats who works as an airline pilot in China, was this year's "tamada" ("toast-master", i.e. master of ceremonies). Here he stands, addressing the (male end) of the table during the feast which follows the "doghi" ("horse race").
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Monday, March 31, 2008

The Autocrat of the Banquet Table

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An extremely interesting study of the history and rituals of the Georgian supra and its tamada toastmaster-cum-dictator is available
here as a pdf on Prof. Kevin Tuite's website.
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Petroglyphs

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The following are petroglyphs from Dano (Pirikiti Tusheti, Lela Tataraidze's village), photographed by Prof. Kote Tchrelashvili.
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Musical Instruments of Georgia

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khalkhuri hangebi ("national melodies")
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Maizer Gazdeliani, the director of the adila musical ensemble and a keen musician and instrument-maker, has created this website in association with the Tbilisi and Kutaisi State Museums. It includes detailed descriptions and photographs of all the different wind, string, percussion, keyboard etc. instruments used in Georgian folkloric music, as well as many regional variations thereof (check out the "four-tone concert panduri"!).
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Sunday, February 3, 2008

A View of Zemo-Omalo

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A beautiful 360-degree View of Zemo-Omalo, the (old) "capital" of Tusheti, print-screened from the Tusheti National Park website (there is a link in the list on the right)
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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Travel to Tusheti


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If you are thinking of travelling to Tusheti - this summer, perhaps - then I can recommend your employing "MN Georgien Travel". This company is run by Maia Veshaguridze, a "lamzur yeuH" ["pretty girl" in Bats] whom I met during my numerous stays in Zemo-Alvani.
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Without wanting to cast any doubt upon the professionalism and capability of the many other companies which offer tours to Tusheti, I feel sure that Maia - as a native Bats (i.e. Tush) - would be able to provide an additional "edge" to your stay in the region! Her company's best offer is a 10-day (walking, mostly) tour which would take you from Akhmeta in Kakheti up the Pankisi Gorge to Tbatana, over a c.3,000m pass to the source of the Alazani river, over another c.3,000m pass to Tsovata, from Tsovata along the Gometsari valley to Omalo, and then down from Tusheti over the Abanos pass (c.3,000m, again!), back down to Kakheti... an exhausting but unforgettable and truly AMAZING trip!
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Besides speaking Georgian, Tush Georgian(!), and a little Bats(!!), Maia is also fluent in German (she studied History in Hannover, and has spent many years in Germany), and one of her colleagues in the company speaks very good English.
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Her company's website is here. (I have also added a link; top right corner of this blog.) And should you wish to contact her, you can do so at: --contact--at--mngeorgientravel--dot--ge.
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Should you have any more questions about travelling to Georgia and - more specifically - to Tusheti or to Tsovata in order to meet the Bats people, I would be delighted to help!
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For an account of an English family's trip through Tusheti on horseback in the summer of 2008 (just before the war between Russia/South Ossetia and Georgia broke out... not that the fighting even got remotely close to the beautiful mountain scenery of Tusheti!), please go to this page, or go directly to their blog.
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The best time of the year during which to go to Tusheti is - unsurprisingly - summer, but not for the usual reasons (i.e. warm weather and plenty of sunny photographs): The [truly amazing] road to Tusheti - which begins in Georgia's eastern province of Kakheti, a three-hour drive from the capital Tbilisi - crosses into Tusheti over the 3,000m-high Abanos Pass. The pass is only open to cars from early June to mid- or late september, and is only open to the rugged local shepherds from late April to mid-October... Good drivers can be found in the villages of Kvemo- and Zemo-Alvani in Kakheti; one should expect to pay around 120 Georgian Lari (roughly 80$) for a one-way trip in a Soviet or Japanese 4x4; the drive from Kakheti to Omalo takes around 7 hours (for a mere 80km - this should give you some idea of the road conditions!).
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